What's being done to stop history from repeating in Detroit? - New York News

What's being done to stop history from repeating in Detroit?

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The Spirit of Detroit statue outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center  (Credit: Fox 2 News) The Spirit of Detroit statue outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center (Credit: Fox 2 News)
DETROIT (WJBK) -

Kwame Kilpatrick did plenty of damage when he was mayor of Detroit.  He left the city broke.  Progress all but halted during the text message scandal, and all that loot he took, well, that sent its own message.

"When I take people out, I don't let people pay for my meals -- breakfast, lunch, dinner, nothing," said Mayor Dave Bing.

The current mayor didn't witness a minute of testimony in the Kilpatrick incorporated trial, but he heard enough to be concerned about the stain Kilpatrick left on his city.

"Anytime that the public looses its trust in the leaders of the city, you can only go downhill," Bing said.

Defense attorneys argued in federal court that it was not uncommon for people to lavish gifts and trips on the mayor of Detroit.  Sitting five blocks away at Kilpatrick's old desk, Bing said that is just not so.

"I doubt very seriously if the Archer administration worked that way, and this administration doesn't work that way," said Bing.

If we learned anything from the Kilpatrick trial, it's what can happen in city hall when the boss' greed comes before the people's need.

"It's a significant amount of evidence that's been brought to light that suggests probably that there's a lot more out there of this culture of pay-to-play in the city," said Jocelyn Benson with the Detroit Board of Ethics.  "That essentially if you wanted to get anything done, if you wanted to influence legislative process, it comes with a cost."

So what is being done to make sure this all doesn't happen again?

"Nobody's talking about it.  It's not on the radar," said Bankole Thompson, editor of the Detroit-based Michigan Chronicle.  "This is something that needs to be at the forefront of conversations about where Detroit goes from now."

Sadly, we've been here before.  Hazen Pingree cleaned up Detroit at the turn of the last century, but his efforts were short lived.

"Probably one of the biggest scandals in Detroit history was in the late 1930s," said Thomas Klug with the Institute of Detroit Studies at Marygrove College.

Scores of officials, including Mayor Richard Reading, were convicted of public corruption.  Reform efforts, if there were any, didn't make big headlines.

What was the response when people learned what was really going on?

"I don't think there was any change fundamentally in the system," Klug said.

We called some city council members for comment, but even reformers like Gary Brown and James Tate declined to speak with us.  They said they wanted to wait for the verdict or were too busy.  Yet the council's actions have already spoken loudly.

"We should be instituting reforms, implementing reforms, much like the Charter Commission tried to do several years ago, but instead the city council is doing the opposite," said Benson.

The city's Board of Ethics ruled that city council members can't take gifts.

"Previously, the charter said the city council could not accept gifts, and we reinforced that with our own interpretation and ruling.  The city council simply put a ballot initiative on the ballot to change that opinion," Benson said.

Thompson said that vote sent the wrong message to citizens, and Bing agrees.

"To have city council vote against it clearly really doesn't make sense.  It shows that they want to go the other side instead of the straight and narrow path," said Thompson.

"You've got to tighten the screws down all the way so people don't believe that this is going to continue to happen," Bing said.

The mayor told us he has instituted his own reforms by cleaning up the city's purchasing procedures, but those efforts haven't made a blip on the city's radar.

"If anyone's saying it, then they need to be saying it louder," said Benson.

In a city where history has a tendency to repeat, this could mean trouble, again.

"What does this say to the people of Detroit if nobody's talking about it in city hall?" I asked Thompson.

"We're doing the same thing all over again.  I think if we want to see change, if we want to upgrade the standard of leadership, I think this is part of the conversation," he said.

------

To file a complaint or learn more about the City of Detroit Board of Ethics, visit www.detroitmi.gov/DepartmentsandAgencies/BoardofEthics.aspx.  You can also call them at (313) 224-2376, send an e-mail to boardofethics@detroitmi.gov or write to:

First National Building
660 Woodward Avenue
Suite 1537
Detroit, MI 48226

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